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Clark Professor: Brown-Warren Race to Get Uglier

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

 

With the roll out of the first round of negative ads in the highly-contested Massachusetts Senate race last week, observers say voters should expect to see attacks between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren get dicier in the coming weeks.

"Both campaigns are at this awkward stage right now where it's as if they are looking for any excuse to go on the attack," said Robert Boatright, an associate professor of Political Science at Clark University.

But don't expect that hesitation to last long, said Boatright.

"My sense is we'll get there in a week or two, though probably not until after the first debate -- I think both would prefer to avoid being put on the spot in a debate by a question about their advertising tactics."

With the roll out of the first round of negative ads in the highly-contested Massachusetts Senate race last week, observers say voters should expect to see attacks between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren get dicier in the coming weeks.

The Opening Round

Warren launched the first salvo with her "Fighter" ad, which featured legendary Lowell boxing trainer Art Ramahlo acting as a stand-in for the candidate and taking jabs at her Republican opponent for backing "the big-money guys."

The decision to feature Ramahlo may have been an attempt to hedge against the belief that female candidates face a greater risk when going on the offensive in campaign ads.

Brown seemed determined to capitalize on that belief in the past week. The Senator's campaign has not been shy about making sure voters know that the Warren camp has shifted gears, sending out press releases and attributing the negative turn to pressure from Democratic party bosses in Washington.

In his return shot "On Your Side," Brown makes explicit reference to Warren's negative ads while directly addressing the camera in front of a white background.

"The conventional wisdom is that women candidates suffer more from going negative than do men," Boatright said.

"I think the Brown campaign is making a lot of noise about how negative the Warren ads are -- they aren't that nasty and don't really accuse Brown of anything specific."

The Republican's campaign followed up with a second ad, called "Women for Brown," which kept the tone positive.

No Surprises--Yet

"The surprise about the Brown-Warren race is not that it went negative, but that it took this long to go negative," said Morgan Marietta, a professor of Political Science at UMass-Lowell.

Marietta said the key to the contest may be personality as it interacts with each fighter's supporters.

"Elizabeth Warren went to Irish Mickey Ward's old boxing trainer as a replacement for her own persona, which is cerebral and elitist, the exact opposite of Art Ramalho, who is more earthy than the dirt under a longshoreman's nails."

Warren's focus now seems to be on appearing tough, said Marietta, territory that previously belonged exclusively to Brown.

But for Brown to maintain his persona as the independent everyman, he will have to place his shots carefully.

"Brown's On the Road ads have presented this image effectively, and Warren is weaving in the same direction with her new negative ad. What started in the boxing gym will likely now move to the street." 

 

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